The Chicago Fire are back on the road this Saturday night for a meeting with the New England Revolution, a primetime matchup with seismic implications in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
As both sides look to claim a vital three points, get familiar with this weekend's Match Storylines, presented by NovaCare.
Last Saturday, the Revolution (9-9-8, 35 points) clipped a point off of the New York Red Bulls in a 1-1 draw at Red Bull Arena. New addition Gustavo Bou scored his fourth goal in six games since arriving from Club Tijuana as a Designated Player on July 10. As it stands, the Revolution sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference -- two points above the Fire -- with eight matches left in the regular season schedule.
The Fire (8-11-9, 33 points) will head East carrying momentum from last weekend's home win over then-first place Philadelphia Union. The Fire held onto a 2-0 lead via a Nemanja Nikolić first-half brace, despite going down to 10-men when midfielder Nicolás Gaitán was shown a red card in first half stoppage time. The win was the Fire's third in four matches, putting them one point below the Eastern Conference playoff line ahead of Saturday night's match.
The last time these sides met, the Fire were emphatic victors in a 5-0 rout at SeatGeek Stadium on May 8. That was former New England head coach Brad Friedel's last match at the helm, before he was let go and replaced by former D.C. United, L.A. Galaxy, and U.S. Men's National Team manager Bruce Arena on May 14. Since Arena's arrival, the Revolution have lost just once (6-1-6) in 13 matches after beginning the season with a 3-8-2 record. New England's only loss with Arena in charge came on Aug. 3 against LAFC, a 2-0 defeat at home, which snapped a 10-match unbeaten run.
Speaking of resurgence, Nikolić and his renewed scoring form have been a key factor in the Fire's late-season playoff run. The 31-year-old's brace in last Saturday's 2-0 win gave him five goals in the Fire's last four matches, and pushed his 2019 total to 11 goals. The pair of finishes marked Nikolić's 49th and 50th in MLS regular season play since joining the Fire ahead of the 2017 season, surpassing Chris Rolfe (48) and giving him sole possession of second place on the Fire's all-time regular season scoring chart.
The Revolution attack is paced by 2019 newcomer Carles Gil. The 26-year-old midfielder leads the team in both goals (nine) and assists (11). His 20 combined goals + assists are the fourth-highest total in the league, behind Atlanta United's Josef Martinez and L.A. Galazy's Zlatan Ibrahimovic (both on 23) and LAFC's Carlos Vela (36).
The Fire got a boost on Tuesday when the Club successfully appealed Gaitán's aforementioned red card against Philadelphia. An Independent Review Panel, consisting of one representative from the U.S. Soccer Federation, one representative from the Canadian Soccer Association and one independent representative nominated by the Professional Referee Organization, unanimously rescinded the one-game suspension and accompanying fine, meaning Gaitán is eligible to play against the Revolution Saturday night.
Saturday’s matchup against the Revolution will mark the 63rd meeting between the two teams since 1998. The Fire currently lead the head-to-head regular season series with a 28-21-13 record. Heading into the match, the Men in Red are unbeaten in their last seven games against the Revolution, dating back to a 2-1 home win on Oct. 16, 2016. The Fire are 9-14-3 in matches played at New England's Gillette Stadium since 2002.